Story of One of Cricket’s First Analytics Pioneers

Story of One of Cricket’s First Analytics Pioneers

We talk to Krishna Tunga, who began working with John Buchannan while he was coaching the Australian cricket team in 2001. One of Cricket’s earliest analytics pioneers, Krishna tells his story of going to the same cricket coaching facility as Sachin Tendulkar, his experience in the fashion and entertainment industries to his two decades analysing the game he loves.

Tell us about your background

I was born in to a middle-class Brahmin family. My birth name was Sanjay Rao, however in 1991 I changed my name to Krishna Tunga. This was dedicated to my late grandfather who had passed away in the mid 1980s. I thought being the eldest boy in our family, I should keep that name. We are four siblings, three brothers and an elder sister. Unlike them I was a very average student!

I was into sport from the beginning, learning hockey and swimming before cricket.  In 1980 during 9th standard summer vacation I joined Achrekar Sir at his Dadar club. Within a year or two I was noticed for my left-arm bowling and was selected for under-age level tournaments. Thanks to cricket I got admission in colleges. I played inter-college in hockey, football and cricket. It was in cricket that I was more skilled. In the next decade, I went on to pursue career opportunities within the fashion, music and entertainment industries, including stints as a model and actor!

Some brief research on your background shows your initial links to the cricketing world were through John Buchanan around 2001. When did you first start working on your theories around data analysis and cricket?

Like all cricket fan during 1980s I also used to collect magazines, scrap books on international performance cards (I still have them). I never bothered to look into it. However after leaving the entertainment industry in 1996-97 I decided to get into cricket as an Analyst, but didn’t know the term then. I would call it as “script writing”. I would describe every ball balled in my scrap book and then update them as stats. Later on I realised it was called as “Notational Analysis” and one of the writers (Keith Lyons) became a great friend!

It was the toughest period for me. I would borrow cricket magazines and journals from Mohandas Menon (Statistician). I was very intrigued by the Australian Cricket Academy in Adelaide. I started writing letters to people like Ross Perry, Rick Finlay, Rod Marsh and Wayne Phillps. Although Rod was kind to reply to one of my letters encouraging my work, during that period they didn’t have any position for this kind of work. Then I received a letter from Wayne Phillips in 1999, saying we could meet if I can travel to Madras. He was touring with Academy at MRF Foundation for ten days.

Then in 2000 when Channel 9 came to India to cover the South African tour of India, I met their scorer Max Kruger, who advised that I should meet coach John Buchanan. Then when Australia toured here in 2001, via Mark Ray and Steve Bernard, I was introduced to John. We met at the lobby where I showed him my work. Then our journey exploring stats started, and over a period of time we devised most of my stats indicators. During this period I was introduced to his assistant (Richard, Tim and Dene) with whom I started working. Since then I am in regular touch with John and Keith. 

Krishna with John Buchanan

Almost two decades involved in the industry. Talk us through some of the key changes throughout this time?

The “look” of cricket as a sport has immensely improved. One can say live cricket is not far behind other top sports in the world! The technology has been a godsend for umpires, players, coaches and fans, yet I feel its very slow to move down at grass root level! The fitness of players and quality of limited overs cricket has progressed massively, with fielding being the entertainment show.

Power batting has taken the limelight, but overall batting has evolved massively. The text book batting now has 100+ pages to it and every year we would see few additional pages. Speed has taken the centre stage for bowling. Now every cricket team has minimum two 140+ fast bowlers. However compared to batsmen, bowlers have evolved less. The LAW is the major reason why bowlers are constrained in learning new skills.  In terms of fielding, we are watching a circus now, with so much flexibility cricketers look like gymnasts with bodies built like weight lifters!

Test cricket on the other hand has not evolved much. Although there is a huge drop in drawn games, but there is lack of fightback from teams. The margin of success is wide and result is apparent after first innings lead and sadly the fourth format (day-night tests) is a decade late! 

What has been your involvement with cricket over the last decade?

I observe, record, analyse, model, predict, monitor, re-evaluate and then propose a stronger model. This process has been a cycle of continuous improvement. I have been in regular touch regularly with coaches and analysts, with whom share my ideas from the data I collect.  

My primary intention of blogging on allthatcricket.com was to make analysis very simple to understand. It applies to everyone who loves the game and participates. Lately I have started using data for practical purposes. I began with diving/swimming to translate video data to improve my diving skills. Last December I resumed playing cricket, and by using my personal data I found a way to improve my specific skills.   

Lately I have also started recording and updating womens international cricket, updating domestic cricket, devised fielding indicators which I vet with coaches and analysts. I have also started watching players behaviours for regression as I believe in all performance there is a regression.

The IPL has had a big impact on statistical analysis on cricket. What have you observed there?

Whenever IPL or other franchise tournament is played all over the world, the media has a festive season! They are able to process data into knowledge that is so simple to understand for all of us. It has allowed us to understand the intricacies of cricket. 

What are your hopes for the industry over the next few years?

The T20 format needs to evolve and IPL can be a beacon for that. It’s time all cricketing nations have their own franchise tournament played throughout the year and have Champions League tournament every 2 years. Franchise tournaments need to have space in the cricketing world, either merge with state/club domestic cricket or have a separate window to play. To create balance there needs to be some kind of a revolution for it to work.

After all these years looking into cricket analysis, are you still a pure fan at heart and have a few favourite players? 

After deciding to be an Analyst, I made a mistake by stop playing cricket. I am glad I resumed last year. Yes, like others, I am a huge cricket fan. I have many favourite players from different eras and different countries.  

Do you support Mumbai in the IPL and the Indian team or are you unbiased given your work in the industry?

I am seeking work hence I am unbiased. In different times I have worked with both the Indian and Australian team and have been loyal to both. I have never worked officially with a franchise team, but was loyal to KKR when I was helping John with my observed information.  Even while working remotely on smaller projects later in my career, I would be loyal to that team and focus on how to help them with data. 

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